Hyannis: Cape Cod's vibrant hub

June 30, 2014

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Considered by some to be the unofficial “capital” of Cape Cod, Hyannis stands out when compared with the other villages on the famous peninsula. Instead of the dreamy, peaceful atmosphere you find elsewhere on the Cape, Hyannis positively bustles and crackles with energy. Sure, it has charming inns, a waterfront district, and sandy beaches, but unlike some of the other Cape towns, Hyannis doesn’t shy away from commercialism. In fact, Hyannis is the shopping center of Cape Cod, and on the edge of town, you’ll find everything from Trader Joe’s to the Cape Cod Mall.

Despite the fact that Hyannis clamors and clangs in spots, it has a charm all its own. It offers everything you can find in other towns on Cape Cod, but then goes a step further. For example, in addition to typical Cape amenities, such as fantastic seafood restaurants and a scenic waterfront district, Hyannis’ diverse population ensures variety. You’ll find a Brazilian steakhouse and an Indian restaurant tucked in among all the galleries and seashore-themed gift shops on Main Street.

As the transportation center for the region, Hyannis has ferry connections to the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Its central location makes a great home base from which to explore the rest of the Cape. The jewel in the crown of Hyannis transportation is the Barnstable Municipal Airport, which welcomes light aircraft along with commuter air traffic.

Flying There

The town of Hyannis is located “mid-cape” on the south side of the Cape Cod peninsula by Nantucket Sound. It’s about 53 nm southeast of Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) and about 52 nm east of Providence, Rhode Island (PVD).

The airspace around Cape Cod is notoriously busy, particularly during summer, so come prepared to “see and avoid,” and contact Cape Approach on 118.2 or 120.125 MHz for flight following. Have the Boston Terminal Area Chart handy when you are flying into Cape Cod, particularly if you are flying in from the northwest and making your way under and around Logan’s Class B airspace.

Visibility can be unpredictable, especially in spring and fall, and particularly in the morning. The infamous “New England fog” can roll in unexpectedly, quickly reducing visibility. Check weather forecasts thoroughly and always come equipped with a backup plan. Hyannis offers two ILS and several RNAV approaches; several airports within a 40 nm radius, including Provincetown (PVC), Plymouth (PYM), and New Bedford Regional (EWB), can be alternates should the need arise.

The Barnstable Municipal Airport serves both light planes and commuter airliners. Photo by George A. Kounis.

Barnstable Municipal Airport-Boardman/Polando Field (HYA) is on the north side of Hyannis, about one mile from the city center. The two runways, 15/33 and 6/24, are paved and in good condition. Runways 15 and 24 offer ILS approaches. Please note that general aviation pilots are required to contact the FBO where they will be parking prior to engine shutdown for an airfield escort. If the FBO is closed, you can contact 24-hour Airport Operations for an escort on 122.95 MHz or 508-778-7770. The tower is open 6 a.m.–10 p.m. For noise abatement procedures and other airport information visit www.Town.Barnstable.ma.us/airport.

Two FBOs provide services to general aviation aircraft. Griffin Aviation offers 100LL, maintenance, a pilot lounge, and overnight parking. Overnight tiedown fees are $16 for singles and $22 for twins, 7 a.m.–7 p.m., 508-771-2638, Unicom 122.85 MHz. Rectrix, on the north ramp near taxiways A and D, offers 22,000 square feet of heated hangar space, a flight briefing room, conference room, and pilot lounge. Ramp fees for singles are $50, piston twins $65, single-engine turboprops $125; overnight tiedowns are single $35, piston twin $40, single-engine turboprop $85. The ramp fee and the first two nights of tiedown fees are waived for piston aircraft with a minimum 100LL fuel purchase (singles 20 gallons, twins 35 gallons), 7 a.m.–7 p.m., 508-771-7520, Unicom 128.825 MHz. The FBOs do not sell Jet A themselves, but they can arrange for fuel through the airport administration.

History

In 1602, early English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold first called the area Shoal Hope, but changed the name to Cape Cod when he noticed great masses of codfish in the ocean surrounding it. In 1620, the famed Mayflower arrived from England. It landed in present-day Provincetown on the northern tip of Cape Cod, about 24 nm miles north of Hyannis. After unpleasant run-ins with local tribes and an unsuccessful search for a suitable campsite, the settlers left the Cape. They eventually established their settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts, about 20 nm west of Provincetown across Cape Cod Bay.

Beginning around 1637, some English settlers made their way from mainland Massachusetts back to areas of the Cape, including present-day Hyannis. As the story goes, Iyanough, the Wampanoag Indian after whom Hyannis is named, sold Hyannis to these early settlers for 20 pounds and two pairs of pants. Hyannis became one of seven villages that make up the town of Barnstable, which was incorporated in 1638. The settlers raised livestock and grew primarily corn, rye, onions, and flax. Soon, however, they turned to the abundant resources of the nearby sea, and fishing and shore whaling became mainstays of the economy. By the year 1840, more than 200 shipmasters called Hyannis their homeport. In 1854, the establishment of a railroad stop in Hyannis sparked massive growth. The railroad cemented Hyannis’ position as Cape Cod’s transportation and commercial center.

Today, Hyannis is most famous for its connection to the Kennedy clan. In 1928, Joseph and Rose Kennedy bought a house in Hyannisport as a summer home for their family. After their son, John F. Kennedy, was elected president of the U.S. in 1960, the Hyannisport compound continued to serve as source of solace and renewal for the Kennedy family. Photos of John and Jackie sailing off of Hyannisport have become iconic, and their presence immediately elevated the town to a new status. Tourism boomed in the years that followed, and Hyannis is now one of the most popular spots on the Cape.

The Kennedy family still vacations at their Hyannisport compound. Though Kennedy fans come from far and wide to glimpse the famous family compound, it is, naturally, heavily secured and inaccessible to the public. Some boat tours offered out of Hyannis harbor, however, offer quick views of the compound.

What to Do

Hyannis is the largest and busiest village in the town of Barnstable, which has a population of about 45,000. Main Street, with its quaint shops and restaurants, is the historic thoroughfare of downtown. From Main Street, it’s a quick walk south to the Hyannis Inner Harbor. Summers are pleasant on the Cape, with temperatures in the upper 60s to mid 70s. Winters are bracing, with temperatures in the 20s and 30s. Transportation options include walking or taking a cab or public shuttle bus. If you plan to explore the far reaches of Hyannis or other areas of the Cape, renting a car is your best bet. (See Transportation.)

Summertime tourism in Cape Cod can be overwhelming. Hyannis, as the transportation center for the rest of the Cape, is particularly affected, so it is nicest during the off-season. Visit in June or September and you’ll most likely encounter pleasant weather without the hassle of crowds. If you visit in the wintertime, amenities available during peak season may be missing and cold temperatures may prevail, but you can enjoy the splendid beauty of the region undisturbed and at bargain prices.

Sunsets from Hyannis beaches are legendary. Chapins Beach Sunset, Dennis, MA. Photo by Matt Suess, www.mattsuess.com.

In warm weather, the perfect day in Hyannis begins with a swim at one of the public beaches. Be forewarned, however, that the water’s temperature is brisk, to say the least. Even in mid-August, Nantucket Sound averages only 70° F. If you are staying close to the Hyannis Inner Harbor, you can walk to Kalmus Beach. Popular with windsurfers, this beach has a bathhouse and snack bar. From the docks on the harbor at Ocean Street, it’s about a half-mile walk south. A half-mile west of Kalmus Beach is Orrin Keyes Beach, which is a little quieter, and is located in a residential area. It also has a bathhouse and snack bar. Craigville Beach, about 4 miles from Hyannis Harbor, is technically in Centerville, but it’s worth a visit for its large expanse of soft yellow sand and views of Centerville Harbor.

If you’d rather enjoy the invigorating waters around Hyannis without actually taking a dip in them, harbor cruise is a great way to become acquainted with the area. Hy-Line Cruises offers several options, including the one-hour Harbor Cruise. You’ll board the Patience, a wooden replica of a coastal steamer boat, and get a guided tour of Hyannis landmarks and beaches, as well as a glimpse of the Kennedy Compound, Apr 16–Oct 28, adults $16, children under 11 $8, Ocean Street Dock, 508-790-0696 or 800-492-8082.

Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises depart out of Barnstable Harbor from May–Oct. Photo courtesy Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises.

Whale watching cruises are legendary in Cape Cod. Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises depart out of Barnstable Harbor from May–Oct on the Whale Watcher, a 130-ft., water-jet powered, all-aluminum mono hull vessel with two climate-controlled cabins that seats 392. Trips run up to four hours with commentary by expert naturalists. Sightings are guaranteed; you might see a Minke, Humpback, or a rare Right whale. Food and drinks may be purchased onboard, adults $49, seniors $40, children 4–12 $28, Barnstable Harbor, Barnstable, 508-362-6088 or 800-287-0374.

Catboat Rides offers peaceful sailing cruises on the Eventide, a 34-foot catboat-class sailboat. In addition to private charters, public options include a Hyannis Port cruise, a sunset tour to nearby Pine Cove Wildlife Sanctuary, and a Blue Water Sail, where the Eventide heads out onto Nantucket Sound, providing exceptional views of several historic lighthouses. Food and beverages may be purchased onboard, adults $35, children under 90 lbs. $10, seniors over 62 $30, private charters $275 for one hour, $500 for two hours, each additional hour $260, 508-775-0222.

Cape Cod is known for its great fishing, and many companies at Hyannis Harbor offer chartered fishing tours. Stroll down the Ocean Street docks, and you’ll find signs advertising several charter tours, along with phone numbers. Or simply head back to reliable Hy-Line Cruises, which offers an array of reasonable charters. On Hy-Line’s popular Bottom Fishing tour, you’ll venture into Nantucket Sound for varieties like Scup, Tautog, and Black Sea Bass. The four-hour Captain’s Choice trip targets Blue Fish or Fluke. Other four- to eight-hour cruises are available, adults $37–$70, children 12 and under $27–$55, bait included, rod rentals $4–$5, you bring snacks and warm clothing, Ocean Street Dock, 508-790-0696 or 800-492-8082.

You can also rent a boat from All Cape Boat Rentals, which offers a fleet of nine Boston Whalers ranging from a 16-foot Ventura perfect for relaxing on the water to a 25-foot Outrage that can fit up to 12 fishermen or sunbathers, $125–$250 per hour, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. (Memorial Day–Labor Day), 145 School St., at the Hyannis Harbor Dockside Marina, (508) 827-2001. Another great source for boat rentals is Ship Shops in South Yarmouth, about 15 minutes away. All late model rentals boast Evinrude outboard engines, and all boats come equipped with local charts, VHF radios, depth finders, swim platforms, and either Bimini Tops or Bow Shelters. The larger vessels (the 20-foot Bow Rider, 22-foot Boston Whaler Center Console, and 24-foot Boston Whaler Outrage) come with GPS navigation, 2–8 hours $120–$650, 130 Pleasant St., South Yarmouth, 508-398-2256.

A walk in Hyannis’ historic waterfront district is a worthwhile activity unto itself. If you start on Main Street at the Sea Street intersection and walk east, you’ll be able to take in a wide array of shops, galleries, and restaurants.

On your way down Main Street, stop at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum. Housed in a diminutive brick building that was formerly the Old Town Hall of Hyannis, the museum focuses on the happy times JFK and his family spent at Hyannisport. You’ll see family photographs and a video narrated by Walter Cronkite, adults $9, seniors $6, children 8–17 $5, Mon–Sat 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun and holidays 12 p.m.–4 p.m., open until 5 p.m. (Jun–Oct), closed Dec–Mar, 397 Main St., 508-790-3077.

Continue walking past the museum and post office and you’ll come to a statue of early Hyannis resident Iyanough at the Village Green. Turn right and take a short stroll south down the scenic “Walkway to the Sea” sidewalk, arriving at the Hyannis Inner Harbor and Ocean Street docks. Here you can walk along the docks, look at boats, watch local fisherman unload their daily catch, or walk through adjacent Bismore Park, where seven huts showcase and sell paintings, pottery, and jewelry by local artisans.

If you’re tired of walking, you can relax on the Cape Cod Central Railroad’s scenic train rides and see some of the Cape outside Hyannis. The two-hour Shoreline Excursion Train goes from Hyannis to the Cape Cod Canal through some of the prettiest parts of Cape Cod; you’ll see cranberry bogs, woodlands, marshes, and maybe even local birds like terns, gulls, or larks, adults $20–$30, children 2–12 $15–$25, lunch and dinner trains also available, 252 Main St., 508-771-3800 or 888-797-RAIL.

The bandstand at the Hyannis Village Green is one of the best spots in town to catch an outdoor concert. Photo courtesy Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce.

People come from all over the Cape to Hyannis to take advantage of its nightlife. Aside from bars with live local blues and jazz musicians, one of the biggest draws in town is the Cape Cod Melody Tent. In the summertime, you can expect well-known entertainers to visit the venue, from touring acts like Gregg Allman and The Moody Blues to comedians like the legendary Bill Cosby and the critically-acclaimed Mike Birbiglia, $8–$92.50, 21 W. Main St., 508-775-5630.

For more information, visit the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center at the junctures of Route 6 and Route 132 in Hyannis, 5 Patti Page Way, Mon–Sat 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m., 508-362-3225 or 888-332-2732, or contact the Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce, Mon–Sat 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun 10 a.m.–2 p.m., 1481 Route 132, Hyannis, 508-775-2201.

Where to Stay

The Anchor In features scenic views of the Hyannis Inner Harbor. Photo courtesy Anchor In.

You can find all styles of accommodation in Hyannis, from familiar chain hotels like the Holiday Inn to seaside motels, with a few quirky bed and breakfasts sprinkled in for good measure. One of the best choices near the Harbor is the Anchor In. Though it looks like a simple two-story motel from the street, the rooms and views are actually many notches above your typical motel. Most of the 42 rooms have decks and refrigerators, and some have great ocean views. The Inn is right on the Hyannis Inner Harbor, so you can watch boats come in and out of the harbor right from the swimming pool. In the morning, friendly owners Lisa and Skip Simpson serve complimentary a continental breakfast in the Inn’s sunroom, $109–$493, 1 South St., 508-775-0357.

On the other side of the harbor is the Hyannis Harbor Hotel, near the docks of Ocean Street and across the street from the Hy-Line Cruises and ferries to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. This attractive motel boasts its own restaurant and a swimming pool. All 136 guestrooms were recently renovated and are comfortably decorated with new carpet and wave pattern bedspreads, and most have refrigerators and balconies. The hotel lobby has also been remodeled; it now leads to covered pergola with teak seating groups, terraces, and views of Hyannis Harbor. Open mid-Apr–mid-Oct, $79–$369, 213 Ocean St., 508-775-4420 or 800-655-2047.

In addition to providing comfortable accommodations, the Simmons Homestead Inn is home to Toad Hall, a classic red sports car museum. Photo courtesy Simmons Homestead Inn.

The Simmons Homestead Inn might be the only bed-and-breakfast in the country with both a museum of classic red sports cars and a single-malt scotch collection that practically deserves its own museum. The single-malt collection comprises over 600 bottles and is proudly displayed across several of the inn’s common rooms, but unfortunately there are no samples! If you prefer your accommodation on the quirky side, this is just the place for you. Located in quiet Hyannisport roughly 1 1/2 miles from the waterfront district, this historic inn is surrounded by trees and feels worlds away from busy Hyannis. Inside the main building, the orderly exterior of the landscaped inn gives way to a cheerful hodgepodge of bookshelves, animal-themed decorations, and floral-patterned sofas set on attractive hardwood floors. Scattered throughout the inn’s main building and renovated barn are 14 cozy guestrooms. The rooms vary in size and price, and some are decorated with different animal themes. The Cape Cod Critters room is the largest bedroom available and features a queen-sized canopy bed, along with a cheerful, brightly colored bedspread, and framed artwork depicting the foxes, seagulls, and ducks that call the Cape home.

Bill Putman, the affable innkeeper, goes out of his way to ensure his guests enjoy their visit, cooking hearty and delicious breakfasts featuring things like hot coffee, freshly squeezed juices, raspberry pancakes, bacon, and cinnamon bread, and giving personal tours of his car museum. He also provides complimentary airport pick-up and helpful suggestions on everything from the best local restaurants to sightseeing tips for surrounding areas. Make sure you like cats if you choose to stay here; 25 of them live at the inn. Though a few of the friendly felines are usually visible in the yard at any given time, they’re not allowed in the guest quarters. Dogs are welcome at the inn and can even stay with you in your room for a $15–$25 pet fee, $130–$280, 288 Scudder Ave., Hyannisport, 508-778-4999 or 800-637-1649.

Where to Eat

The variety of dining options in Hyannis is on a par with most big cities. You can find almost anything you’d like; Thai, Italian, and Indian cafes intermingle with traditional steak and seafood restaurants. Still, Cape Cod is best known for its maritime cuisine.

For incredible views and some of the freshest seafood around, you can’t beat Tugboats. An elevated, glassed-in bar and an enormous outdoor deck allow you to munch on seafood while enjoying panoramic views of the Hyannis Inner Harbor. Appetizers include six oysters on the half shell, $14.50, and “O” Rings, hand-cut onion rings served in enormous portions, voted the best on Cape Cod by Boston magazine, $10. For the best of everything, try the Fisherman’s Platter, featuring deep fried clams, scallops, scrod, and shrimp with French fries and coleslaw, $27. Entrées range from $12–$29, open daily 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. (mid-April–Oct), 21 Arlington St., 508-775-6433.

Across from the Hyannis Inner Harbor, delicious aromas beckon you inside the Black Cat restaurant. You can dine in the dim and inviting interior or people-watch while dining on their outdoor patio right on Ocean Street. The Black Cat offers classic American cuisine with a focus on fresh seafood. Dinner salads served with crisp mixed greens and homemade dressings like Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette are refreshing and delicious, $10–$25. Appetizers include pan-seared crab cakes with spicy or regular remoulade, $13, and the Raw Bar Sampler, with shrimp, littleneck clams, oysters, and cocktail sauce, $15. For an entrée, try a classic seafood dish like the pan-seared Cajun swordfish with scallion rice and summer fruit salsa, $26. Steak, pasta, and chicken dishes are also available, entrées $19–$43, open daily 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. (Feb–Dec), 165 Ocean St., 508-778-1233.

Alberto’s Ristorante serves excellent Italian fare. Photo courtesy Best Read Guide/Cape Cod.

Cape Cod is also known for its Italian cuisine. To enjoy classic Italian food in Hyannis right on Main Street, Alberto’s Ristorante is the way to go. An excellent menu, great service, and an extensive wine list make this slice of Italy one of the best restaurants in town. For an appetizer, try the Bruschetta, baked bread topped with sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, pesto, and Romano cheese, $9. Dinner entrées include seafood as well as classic pasta and meat dishes. Try the Salmon Pignolia, pine nut-encrusted salmon filet with a balsamic wine reduction, $26, or the Gnocchi Sienese, potato pasta tossed with eggplant, porcini, and cremini and shitake mushrooms in a tarragon and tomato demi-glace, $22. Lunch fare is lighter and includes sandwiches and entrées like the Amalfi Salad, $6–$16. Lunch entrées run $13–$24, open daily at 11:30 a.m., 360 Main St., 508-778-1770.

If you are looking for breakfast or a quick sandwich to take on a picnic or boat tour, stop by the Box Lunch, an inventive quick-stop restaurant serving tasty sandwiches made with pita bread to go. Try Owen’s Special, with blue cheese, roast beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and mayo, $6.49. You can also build your own sandwich from a variety of fillings. Breakfast options are also served in pita bread and include choices like the Missing Links, eggs scrambled with link sausages, cheese, and onions, $4.25. Snacks and desserts are also available, Mon–Fri 9 a.m.–4 pm., Sat 10 a.m.–3 p.m., 357 Main St., 508-790-5855.

Transportation

If you are staying in the historic waterfront district around Ocean Street or Main Street, you can easily walk to many of Hyannis’ best restaurants, bars, shops, and boat cruises. If you are staying farther away, or want to explore other parts of Hyannis, there are several options for transportation, including car rentals and taxis. With the exception of the Simmons Homestead Inn, complimentary hotel pick-ups at the airport are practically non-existent. When you arrive at the airport, taxi service is available to take you to your hotel; try Town Taxi, which will charge about $8 to take you to the Hyannis Harbor, 508-775-5555. Four car rental agencies are in the main terminal building, $50–$200 a day; try Avis, 800-331-1212, Budget, 800-527-0700, Enterprise, 800-261-7331, or Hertz, 800-654-3131.

The Cape Cod Transit Authority operates public shuttle buses serving the Hyannis area. One of the most useful for visitors is the Hyannis Area Trolley, which offers seasonal service the last weekend in June through Labor Day. Its route begins at Hyannis Transportation Center at the intersection of Main Street and Center Street and stops at the JFK Museum, Maine Street Hyannis and the Hy-Line Ferry Docks, free, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, 800-352-7155.

Hyannis, with all its vigor and energy, is not only notable for being Cape Cod’s transportation center; it’s a worthwhile destination in its own right. It offers great beaches, award-winning restaurants and bars, shopping, and plenty of Cape Cod’s maritime flavor. The wonderful thing about Hyannis is its central location. Once you’ve sampled all of its charms, you’re in a perfect spot to branch out and continue your explorations to other parts of the Cape. But no matter how far away on the peninsula you wander, there is no doubt that Hyannis, with all of its attractions and amenities, is one spot on the Cape where you’ll return again and again.

The John F. Kennedy Memorial commemorates one of America’s most beloved presidents, who was also a part-time Hyannis resident. It can be seen from the air over Veteran’s Beach. Photo by George A. Kounis.